More than 30 GSA employees, myself included, recently packed into the former Administrator’s suite alongside agency hiring managers for a discussion with the heads of two federal agencies. The 30 of us all work at GSA, but we share another common bond as well: each of us spent two or three years of our lives living around the globe – some in rainforests, some in the freezing tundra, and some (as in my case) in the arid desert – as Peace Corps volunteers.
GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini received the Acting Director of Peace Corps, Carrie Hessler-Radelet, and other Peace Corps staff at a gathering at GSA headquarters to talk about what Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) can bring to government. The prominent messages to emerge from the talk: RPCVs have talent, and GSA, as well as any other government agency, can hire them.
As part of the discussion, the RPCVs each spoke about their path to GSA and how they felt their Peace Corps experience equipped them for public service. Among the things they brought to government: perseverance, flexibility, adaptability, work ethic, technical expertise, leadership and program management skills, and the ability to work under tight budget restrictions. And it wasn’t all talk – several of the GSA hiring managers in the room praised the work of RPCVs in their offices and divisions.
As a volunteer in Morocco from 2008 to 2010, I can vouch that the Peace Corps was a fantastic preparation tool for a move to a public service career. Many of my personal experiences, such as planning a week-long residential camp for high school kids – with no budget, few resources, to be staffed by people I had never met, with little supervision/guidance, in 120-degree heat, and in a language I studied for only six months – made government challenges much less daunting. I brought these skills and a global perspective with me when I was fortunate enough to be hired by GSA in the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.
It is worth noting that every one of the RPCVs at the meeting was hired at GSA via a special hiring authority RPCVs receive upon their completion of service – non-competitive eligibility (NCE). NCE allows former Peace Corps and Americorps volunteers to be hired into government non-competitively within one to three years of their separation of volunteer service, depending on circumstances. In essence, the authority gives hiring managers an easier way than the traditional hiring path, because the candidates aren’t required to compete for the position as long as they meet minimum requirements. It’s quicker, simpler, and more efficient. Unfortunately, NCE isn’t common knowledge in the federal government or throughout GSA, for that matter.Peace Corps Director of Third Goal and Returned Volunteer Services, Eileen Conoboy, noted that the large group of RPCVs in the room indicated GSA was doing a decent job at recruiting from the Peace Corps talent pool, but many of the hiring managers in the room were previously unfamiliar with the authority or how to use it. As such, plans were made to further educate HR personnel and other hiring managers throughout GSA about NCE and its benefits.
Working in the federal government may seem a far cry from working in a rural African village, but RPCVs at GSA and other agencies have demonstrated that the talents they develop in Peace Corps service make them valuable public servants afterward. Administrator Tangherlini concluded the discussion by vowing to continue to support and expand the hiring of talented RPCVs at GSA.
On behalf of all RPCVs at GSA, we know he won’t regret it.